Messianic expectations are deeply rooted in Jewish history and culture. However, misconceptions about messianic roles caused the religious leaders of miss out on the arrival of their Messiah. Randy Bushey points out that we although the Jews of Jesus’ generation largely missed out, their is still hope for us today.
The woman said, “I know that Messiah (called Christ) is coming. When He comes, He will explain everything to us”(John 4:25).
A few years back, the US government reported that the 4th fastest-growing name for American baby boys was Messiah. In all, 762 little boys possess birth certificates for that year reflecting that legal name – approximately as many as Scott or Jay. But in an era when children are named Apple, North and Rainbow Aurora (what would that nickname be?) maybe that’s to be expected?
In the Old Testament, Israel too had many messiahs – not as actual baby names, but special anointed servants commissioned by God to carry out the role of prophet, priest, or king for the nation.
A common thread throughout Old Testament history, predicted with anticipation the coming One, uniquely anointed by God, the Ultimate Messiah:
- “He will crush your head, and you will strike His heel” God told the serpent in Genesis 3:15.
- in His covenant with Abraham, God foreshadowed the One who would descend from the patriarch with this promise: “all peoples on earth will be blessed through you” (Genesis 12:3).
- more than 14 centuries before Christ’s coming, Moses assured Israel, “The Lord your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from among your own brothers. You must listen to Him” (Deuteronomy 18:15).
- Yahweh promised King David, “I will be His Father and He will be my Son” (2 Sam.7:14). That prophecy found its immediate fulfillment in Solomon; but the writer to the Hebrews finds its completion in Jesus in the first chapter of Hebrews.
- Isaiah’s prophetic utterance, a staple in our Christmas readings: “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: the virgin will conceive and give birth to a Son, and will call him Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14).
- and, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever” (Isaiah 9:6,7).
An Ignored Messiah
The Samaritan woman at the well clearly knew something of the Hebrew Bible, of which Samaritans believed only part. The great irony of Hebrew history was this: the Messiah was hugely anticipated… and largely ignored. When the magi appeared in Jerusalem on the trail of the star, the Jewish chief priests and teachers of the law were certain the visitors should be directed to Bethlehem, but had no inclination to go themselves. To their eternal shame, they missed an impressive Messianic display of shock and awe – unlike anything the world has ever seen – and the opportunity to worship the Cosmic King.
That’s particularly interesting to me, because we know from history that at the time of the coming of Christ, Messianic fervor was strong among the Palestinian Jews. They were virtually prisoners in their own land, under the control of Rome and its delegate, Herod the Great.
From a religious point of view, too much of Jewish worship –even the construction of “Herod’s” Temple – was tainted by Gentile control. And the regular grind of a heavy Roman tax burden constantly fueled the mounting hatred of the Gentile overlords. The Jews were looking for a deliverer – a Messiah (Greek Christ) or Anointed One – sent by God to be His agent of deliverance for His chosen people.
Many, perhaps most, envisioned Him as being a military leader, someone in the pattern of Judah Maccabeus, Israel’s hero a century-and-a-half before the birth of Jesus. Under Antiochus Epiphanes, the Greeks had slaughtered 40,000 Jews in and around Jerusalem. But he was most hated for his desecration of the Holy Place. In his arrogance, Antiochus seized the Jewish Temple, erected a statue of Zeus within its precincts, and invoked absolute revulsion and horror among the remaining inhabitants by slaughtering a pig on its altar.
Judah Maccabeus led the Jewish revolt and restored Jewish worship within the Temple in 165 BC. This is commemorated by Jews in their Hanukkah celebration (just celebrated around the globe the last week of December).
Other Jews looked for a Messiah who, as a priestly figure, would restore a purity of worship to the Temple system. This would eliminate the stain of politics and finance – 2 components for which the Jewish faith in the Holy City was becoming characterized.
Some Pharisees in particular, looked for One who as a legal and prophetic figure would clarify and accurately interpret the Torah (5 books of Moses), thereby leading reformation.
And the Qumran community – living in the region now famous for the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls – was watching for the arrival of 2 Messiahs: one in the role of priest, and the other as prophet!
A Rejected Messiah
But then the astounding occurrence! When the true Messiah finally arrived, in fulfillment of massive amounts of Old Testament predictive prophecy and as the ultimate Prophet, Priest and King, He was rejected by His own, waiting people!
Thus the confounding words of John’s first chapter: He came to that which was His own, but His own did not receive Him (John 1:11).
Takeaway: John’s sad declaration in John 1 of the Hebrew Messiah being discarded by His own people has a bright conclusion for those of us – Jew or Gentile – of the faith of Abraham: He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God (John 1:11,12)
You can listen to pod casts from Randy’s show, “The Faith Factor,” by clicking here.
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Images Courtesy of:
Jerusalem – tihanyitom
Wailing Wall – MathKnight & Zachi Evenor
Antiochus Epiphanes – Classical Numismatic Group Inc.
The Crucifixion – Gustave Doré